When Zionist militias massacred more than 100 Palestinians, including women and children, in Deir Yassin, a village near Jerusalem, during the 1948 creation of the state of Israel — known as the Nakba, or “catastrophe” — word traveled fast to other Palestinian villages, striking fear into residents’ hearts.
“We were on our way back home from our farms,” recounts 86-year-old Abdelrahman Suleiman Nakhleh, from Beit Nabala in the Ramla area of historic Palestine. “We heard the sounds of bombs being dropped on a nearby village.” This was in May, about a month after the Deir Yassin massacre. “We knew the Zionists had finally arrived. If we didn’t flee, they would transform our village into another Deir Yassin.”
The quaint village of Beit Nabala, with its structures built of stone and undulating hills of olive trees and citrus fruits surrounding them, was home to more than 2,600 people and was among some 530 Palestinian villages that Zionist forces destroyed during Israel’s establishment.
For Nakhleh, who was about 12 years old at the time, his life would suddenly change forever — consumed in a never-ending cycle of displacement. It was a fate that befell at least 750,000 Palestinians who were expelled from their homes and became refugees in 1948.
Running with just the clothes on their backs, Nakhleh and his family found refuge under the branches of their olive trees. The small green leaves which months before had birthed olives during the annual harvesting season, attracting the whole village who collected them while singing and chatting, now sheltered them from the bombs. Seemingly by instinct, all of the villagers fled to their olive trees. It was the last time the village would ever be gathered together. Never again would they feel the dirt or the earthly scent of their lands beneath them.
About 25 of the youths, who had joined the armed resistance, stayed behind in Beit Nabala and tried to defend the village. But having only one gun for every two fighters, the Zionist militias quickly overpowered them; they slowly made their way to the olive trees, crouching and crawling through corn fields, to reunite with the rest of their village.
“We traveled from one city to another… until we arrived here,” Nakhleh says, seated on a couch at his current home in Amman, the capital of Jordan, where about 2 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants reside.
“I can never forget that day,” Nakhleh tells Truthout. Behind him is a large picture of the Dome of the Rock at Al Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem, covering almost the entirety of one of his walls. “I will never forget our lands, our olive trees and our homes.”
But 75 years after the Nakba, the world has watched as Israel carries out the worst massacre in Palestine’s history. On October 7, the Qassam Brigades — the armed wing of Hamas, which governs the besieged Gaza Strip — launched a complex, surprise military attack against Israel, killing 1,200 and capturing about 240 Israeli and foreign hostages. Since then, Israeli airstrikes have killed at least 15,000 people in Gaza, including more than 6,000 children.
Israel’s unprecedented aggression against one of the most densely populated areas on Earth, which some critics argue amounts to genocide, has caused even Nakba survivors to shudder. “I give all my heart and soul to the people of Gaza,” Nakhleh says, his voice rising and breaking at the same time. “I wish I could take the suffering from those children and put it on myself. But like Palestinians before them, Gaza is suffering because they have chosen to resist.”
Around 1.8 million people have been displaced from their homes in less than two months, more than 80 percent of the area’s population, while more than half of Gaza’s homes have been damaged or completely destroyed. Images of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fleeing their homes, hurriedly pushing their elders on wheelchairs through bombed-out neighborhoods and lugging suitcases stuffed with the few items they were hastily able to grab before their homes explode under airstrikes, have been broadcasted into homes across the world.
For Nakba survivors, they are being reminded of their own displacement. “All Palestinian refugees are reliving what they or their families experienced in 1948,” explains 60-year-old Muhammad Yousef Mahmoud al-Adarbe, a community leader in Amman’s Al-Wehdat camp — Jordan’s second-largest refugee camp and home to about 57,000 Palestinian refugees. “We’re watching our past come alive on our televisions.”
The number of Palestinians killed and expelled from their homes since October 7 far exceeds those killed or made refugees during the Nakba. But, according to Ilan Pappe, an Israeli historian and director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies at the University of Exeter, the massacre in Gaza is unraveling within a wider historical context of what Palestinians refer to as al-Nakba al-Mustamera, or “the ongoing Nakba.”
“We are in another terrible chapter in a long history of ethnic cleansing that never ceased from 1948 until today,” Pappe tells Truthout. “Whether in the Gaza Strip or the West Bank, this process is accompanied by incremental genocidal policies.”
Watching Another Massacre
Adarbe was born in the Ein as-Sultan refugee camp, located in the West Bank’s Jordan Valley, near the city of Jericho. After about two years, his family moved to Amman, settling into a cramped home in Al-Wehdat camp.
As Adarbe grew from childhood to adulthood, it was the stories his family told him about their village of Al-Dawayima in the historic subdistrict of Hebron, which was depopulated in 1948, that gave him strength as he grappled with the overcrowding and lack of opportunities that continues to define life in the camps.
“In our village we had a lot of land, but now we were confined to a tiny space in the camp,” Adarbe tells Truthout, periodically taking a drag from a cigarette. “At the end of the day, no matter how hard life got, we knew one day we would be going back to our village and this always made us feel strong.”
There was one story his family told him that overshadowed all others. The Dawayima village was the site of one the worst and most horrific massacres carried out in 1948 — which had for years been covered up by the Israeli government. Unlike massacres orchestrated by Zionist paramilitary groups, such as in Deir Yassin, the perpetrators of the Dawayima massacre were regular armed forces that were part of the new Israeli state, which was already seeking recognition from the international community and was preparing its application to become a member state of the UN.
Israeli forces invaded the village, indiscriminately killing men, women and children — in their homes and on the streets. According to an Israeli soldier who was present during the massacre, they encountered no fighting or resistance among Al-Dawayima’s residents, but continued the carnage anyway, even smashing the skulls of children with sticks. They blockaded houses and blew them up with explosives while people were still alive inside.
The troops then moved onto the village mosque, slaughtering around 75 people who had sought refuge inside, most of whom were elderly. Dozens of others, which included many women and children, had hid themselves in nearby caves and grottos; they were similarly found and shot. It is estimated that between 500 and 1,000 Palestinians were killed.
In 1955, the Jewish settlement of Amatzia was built on the ruins of Al-Dawayima. According to Adarbe, his family had long informed him that after the massacre, Palestinians had returned to the village in the middle of the night and collected some of the slain bodies and buried them in a well.
This story, long told by survivors, was confirmed in the 1980s when the former leader of Dawayima brought an Israeli journalist to the destroyed village and pointed out where the dead were buried. The journalist returned with laborers and began digging; they quickly unearthed bones and skeletons, one of which belonged to a small child.
“I didn’t experience this massacre firsthand,” Adarbe says. “I only heard about it from my family. But, watching Gaza now feels like watching the massacre my family experienced happen in real time. When you’re actually seeing it in front of you and it’s not just a story, it feels very different. I’m feeling a lot of pain.”
“What’s happening in Gaza is proof of what happened to my family,” he continues. “What they did to us in 1948, they are doing it again, but on an even bigger scale. This genocide in Gaza reaffirms everything my parents went through and all of their stories they told me growing up.”
“But the resistance in Gaza is also a reminder to all Palestinians that the time is now coming when we must finally do everything possible to go back to our homes. It is time for us to return.”